Image: Wen Ho Lee
Mike Fiala  /  AFP / Getty Images file
Wen Ho Lee, seen leaving court with his daughter Alberta Lee in September 2000, will receive money from five news organizations after a privacy lawsuit centered around reporters' confidential sources.
updated 6/2/2006 6:50:16 PM ET 2006-06-02T22:50:16

The Associated Press and four other news organizations have agreed to pay a former nuclear weapons scientist $750,000 as part of a settlement of his privacy lawsuit against the federal government that turned into a fight over reporters’ confidential sources.

Wen Ho Lee, once suspected of being a spy, ended his 6½-year-old lawsuit against the Energy and Justice Departments on Friday. Lee had accused federal officials of smearing him by leaking information that he was under investigation as a spy for China.

The case took an unusual turn when federal judges held five reporters in contempt of court for refusing to disclose the sources of their stories about the government’s espionage investigation of Lee.

The payment by AP, The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post and ABC is the first of its kind in recent memory, and perhaps ever, legal and media experts said.

The companies bluntly said they agreed to the sum to forestall jail sentences for their reporters, even larger payments in the form of fines and the prospect of revealing confidential sources.

“We were reluctant to contribute anything to this settlement, but we sought relief in the courts and found none,” the companies said. “Given the rulings of the federal courts in Washington and the absence of a federal shield law, we decided this was the best course to protect our sources and to protect our journalists.”

The statement noted that the accuracy of the reporting itself was not challenged.

The final terms of Lee’s settlement with the government were not immediately known, but a draft settlement circulated last week included a payment of $895,000 in attorney’s fees and no admission that the government agencies had violated Lee’s privacy rights.

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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